mysophobia 潔癖

Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.

Cotton and Corn: The Failure of Humanity

The worldwide crisis over food prices is the direct result of the decision, made by the Bush administration in 2006, to begin feeding large quantities of American corn to American automobiles, in the form of ethanol. This fateful decision led to a run-up in corn prices, which in turn led farmers to plant more corn and less soy and wheat–leading to the surge in the price for all grains. But make no mistake: we’ve created a situation where American SUVs are competing with African eaters for grain. We can see who is winning.

— Michael Pollan

The first thing I always tell those believers in free market: There has never been a free market, ever.

The second thing I tell: The thing that we get closet to the free market is unethical decision-making processes via fully armed (literally by arms dealers) lobbying. And we got the share of US’ national income going to the top 0.01% in the US has risen from just over 1% in 1980 to almost 5% now. When the world’s wealth is at the hands of 1%, there is no free market, only corporates decisions and choosers.

Some more examples on how policies influence economy (that makes GDP and CEO’s salaries grow higher and ordinary people’s lives harder):

1. Cotton.

U.S. cotton farmers, Pedro says, get subsidies from the U.S. government that add up to somewhere between $1.5 billion and $4 billion a year.

No one can compete that. In the global “free market.”

US has been asking others to OPEN UP markets and remove tariffs but keep subsidizing its own agriculture. Its food self-sufficiency rates is more than 100%. Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, all below 60% or so.

The U.S. never follows the World Trade Organization’s rules of global trade. It only follows when the rule suits its own purposes, and it forces others to follow.

WTO rules let the winning country — in this case Brazil — tax imports from the losing country.

So Brazilian officials decided to threaten some powerful American industries with taxes, in an effort to recruit them into their battle against American cotton.

They made a list of 102 products and got in touch with powerful American business groups. They said the new import tax would apply within 30 days — unless the U.S. government sent a team to Brazil to negotiate the cotton issue.

The American negotiators sat down in Brazil and immediately declared it impossible to get rid of the cotton subsidies right away. But the two sides came to an agreement.

The U.S. would pay Brazilian cotton farmers $147 million a year, and Brazil would drop the threat of retaliation.

To review: The United States was found to be illegally subsidizing U.S. cotton farmers. We are still subsidizing U.S. cotton farmers. Now the U.S. paying Brazilian cotton farm.

2. Corn

Today it takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy.

 — Michael Pollan

The quickest way to relieve pressure on world food prices would be to cut U.S. subsidies for ethanol and drop import tariffs on Brazilian ethanol. The other reason grain prices have spiked is that oil prices have spiked, and industrial agriculture has become heavily reliant on fossil fuel–for fertilizer, for pesticide, for processing and transportation.

W. Atlee Burpee & Company would tell you that the disappearance of traditional varieties is simply the Darwinian operation of the marketplace: if the old varieties were any good, they’d compete more successfully


In fact the chairman of Burpee made exactly that argument last spring in a Times Op-Ed piece in defense of the embattled hybrid, likening open-pollinated seeds to Model T’s


The seed savers see another, darker reason for the hybrid’s predominance. As the Seeds Blum catalogue puts it, in words plain as those of Marx and Engels, “The reason hybrids exist is to protect the breeding investment of the seed company.Unlike the seeds of open-pollinated varieties, the seeds produced by an F-1 hybrid plant don’t “come true”—their offspring are apt to exhibit the undesirable traits of one or the other parent. In other words, seeds of these hybrids can’t be saved or reproduced; their biology makes them proprietary. By forcing gardeners and farmers to return for new seeds each season, the companies selling F-1 hybrids have effectively taken control of the means of production.

These are not the only ways in which modern hybrids remake nature in the image of capitalism. Given heavy doses of fertilizer, F-1 hybrids grow swiftly and produce high yields. They also produce genetically uniform plants. What could better suit factory farming than a robust field of identical tomato or corn plants genetically coded to ripen all at once, thereby facilitating mechanical harvesting?

But the same uniformity that smoothes capitalism’s way into the farm and garden also violates one of nature’s cardinal principles: genetic diversity. A field of genetically identical plants is much more vulnerable to disease, as American corn farmers discovered in 1970 when a blight decimated the nation’s crop, which had grown dependent on a few genetically similar hybrids. After such blights, breeders have historically turned to traditional varieties of corn, found in places like Mexico, to refresh the gene pool and provide new resistance. But what happens when Mexican farmers have been sold on fancy new hybrids and their traditional varieties have become extinct?

Seeds of Change claims in its catalogue that, second to destruction of habitats, “possibly the biggest single trigger of extinctions is the introduction of hybrid seeds.” This sounds like hyperbole, and yet the seed insurgents are probably right to perceive a threat to biodiversity in the commercial seed trade’s promotion of hybrids. We’re accustomed to think of biodiversity only in connection with wild species in places like the rain forest, but the species that humans have selected and bred since the invention of agriculture are no less important. They represent a priceless worldwide store of genetic and cultural information, the heritage of some 10,000 years of coevolution between humans and their crop plants.

(To be Continued)

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This entry was posted on October 17, 2013 by in 【Medicine & STS】, 雜Variety and tagged , .
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